My friend Caroline Blackledge is participating in Bike MS in Oregon at the end of July.
She participates in my honor and is fundraising for the NMSS. Caroline wrote a lovely letter about our friendship and why she is biking to end MS. Please read and donated any amount you can to http://main.nationalmssociety.org/goto/carolinesbikems.
Help 2 Carolines for the Price of 1!
By Caroline Blackledge
I “met” Caroline Kyriakou (yes, we have the same first name), a Bostonian born and raised, as pen pals in the seventh grade. And as we suffered through many adolescent trials and tribulations, while listening to a lot of Tori Amos, we grew to become very close friends. I owe a lot to her for getting me through some really tough times! We somehow survived those teenage years, but at the age of 26, Caroline would start on an unplanned path as she encountered an entirely new challenge.
In the summer of 2006, Caroline began having tingling and numbing in her left foot and knee. Over the next few weeks, the tingling and numbing spread to her right foot, fingers, and torso. Caroline sought medical attention and ended up in the emergency room where, after several days, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. There are several different forms of MS, but in addition to affecting the sensations in her extremities and torso, Caroline’s Relapse-Remitting MS has caused extensive fatigue, vision abnormalities, and intermittent trouble with walking even short distances. Her symptoms are exacerbated by extreme heat or cold and Boston has always had its fair share of heat waves and cold spells. MS is treatable, but the current treatments are far from a cure and can sometimes cause debilitating complications. For Caroline, her fear of needles has played a part in her own treatment decisions, as some MS treatments require daily injections, which is far from an ideal treatment.
Caroline has decided not to let her MS diagnosis run her life. When she was first diagnosed, Caroline was naturally scared and, in doing some research, found that there weren’t many places to turn for support. Caroline has sought to change that and has become very active in the MS community, leading a team each year in the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s (NMSS) Walk MS, and starting her own online blog and support group. She has been published in two books and has appeared on her local news station to tell her story and help raise awareness. Although Caroline did not author this quote, she tries to keep it in mind as she navigates her daily life: “I may have MS, but MS doesn’t have me!” Caroline’s will to stand up to her diagnosis has been an inspiration to many, including me.
Two years ago, I learned about Bike MS, a bike ride and fundraiser that raises money for the NMSS, which funds research into the prevention, treatment, and cure of MS, as well advocacy and outreach programs for those affected by MS. I was very excited to participate in the Bike MS event for the first time in 2013 to support my good friend Caroline. Slowly but surely, I rode 114 miles over two days, all the while being cheered on by NMSS staff and volunteers. I quickly grew to love the warmth of the NMSS community and decided to begin volunteering at NMSS’s main fundraising event, Walk MS. 2015 marked my second year volunteering at Walk MS and will be my third year participating as a rider at Bike MS in July.
This year’s Walk MS event in Portland was held in April and I was excited to see two separate groups of friends participating in the walk. But then it hit me… these friends aren’t walking for Caroline.
Kyle and Jillian are walking for their friend Becky, who was diagnosed three years ago. A few weeks later, Becky’s mom supported her daughter by participating in her local Walk MS, raising $800 on little notice, after Becky had missed Portland’s own Walk MS, which had occurred just days before her diagnosis. Becky’s mom proved to be an inspiration for Becky, to take control of her diagnosis and join in the fight to change the future of MS. The following year, Becky started her Walk MS team, unComfortably Numb. 2015 marked unComfortably Numb’s third year participating in Walk MS, which raised over $10,000 this year for MS research and support services.
Jose and Stephanie are walking for Felicia, Jose’s co-worker and friend. Felicia is a wife and new mother who was recently diagnosed with MS at the age of 28, after experiencing symptoms of vertigo, extensive numbness, and difficulty walking. As part of her treatment, Felicia has participated in physical therapy and occupational therapy to regain her strength. She also swears by the use of essential oils to help manage day-to-day pain and muscle spasms. She is grateful for these treatments, as they have helped her to be able to play and dance with her sixteen-month-old daughter, Abbagail. Felicia participated in Walk MS this year, leading Team Felicia: Orange is the new Pink! (orange is the official color that supports a world free of MS), because she is hopeful that we will see a cure for MS in her lifetime. Felicia has three other relatives who live with MS as well, her grandmother, aunt, and cousin. Let’s hope that by the time young Abbagail is a young adult, her generation will be free from the MS diagnosis.
And while it was great to see my friends supporting a great cause, I would much rather have seen them under different circumstances. Kyle, Jillian, Becky, Jose, Stephanie, and Felicia walked, and I will ride, so that we can raise awareness and stop MS in its tracks, so that future generations will no longer hear the words “You have MS.”
This is why I ride Bike MS. Please join me in supporting the NMSS as we work to create a world free of MS. Any donation—large or small—will help in the fight against MS! I greatly appreciate your support!